Monday, July 25, 2011

a voice gone silent

On Thursday night another resident of San Francisco Zen Center, David, was found dead. I assumed it was suicide, and his friend Brad Warner seems to confirm it.

Especially compared to the decades people sometimes live there, my time at SFZC was very short, just a few weeks in the summer of 2008. But what timing! A day or two before I got there, everyone had been evacuated out of Tassajara before the fires came, and its residents dispersed to either City Center or Green Gulch. I think the fires came the day after I got there, a story quirky and dramatic enough to have a new book about it: abbot Steve St├╝cky and 4 other monks stayed behind and risked their lives to (successfully) save the monastery. Back here, though, City Center was full of refugees, taken from their normal routines in a steep, un-electrified valley, and dumped in the middle of San Francisco.

David was one of the refugees. As you might guess, he suffered from mental illness, and had a bit of a mental break when he lost his home. So everything was pretty busy, with Tassajara having a crisis with the fires, City Center having a crisis trying to integrate the Tassajara refugees into the schedule and community, and David having a crisis of his own.

It's startling to me how much I remember of all those people I was only with for 3 weeks. Lou Hartman, impossibly old, but at 93(!) a model of dedicated practice, as the young people careened around him in the kitchen. The enigmatic, very large Jerome, silently shifting from his morning newspapers to putting on his big straw hat and venturing out into the world. And David.

I talked to him a few times when he got back from a few days in the hospital. I remember what everyone else remembers: kind, and smart, and funny. I also saw someone working so hard to be a part of the world, and maybe never quite feeling like he succeeded. I remember the subtle sadness behind his eyes, the shadows and fog of a fellow traveller. It's a special brand of hell, to experience life through that dull gray veil.

Really, I didn't know him that well, and I'm projecting a bit out of my experience. I just know that I found my way out, and he never did.

I often don't have much to say about these things. People die, and all at once we lose their participation in our world, and we get a brutal reminder of our own transience. It's rough.

On the han, the wood block used for signalling various events in a Zen temple, is always written a verse similar to this:


Life is short, and relationships are the only thing that matter. Go care about people.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry for the Zen Center's loss and I have the urge to go hug my parents and brother.

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